The University of North Carolina at Pembroke awarded diplomas to 600 graduate and undergraduate students during the 2012 Winter Commencement ceremonies on December 7 and 8.
More 5,000 parents, friends and graduates attended the events, which marked the 140th commencement in the university’s history. The institution, founded in 1887, is in the midst of celebrating its 125th anniversary, Chancellor Kyle R. Carter noted in his welcoming remarks.
“Much has changed,” Chancellor Carter said, “but the mission of improving the quality of life through education remains the same.”
From generation to generation the torch was successfully passed at the university, and that ideal is reflected in this generation of students. Like the university’s 125-year history, the route these students traveled included challenges and triumphs.
Commencement speaker Dr. David Nikkel welcomed the graduates to the next era of their lives. He encouraged them to continue to embrace the values of a liberal arts education.
Dr. Nikkel is a theologian and winner of the 2012 UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence. Author of three books, he routinely takes on the most complex issues in his classroom while remaining “close to the ground” as pastor of a small church congregation in Fayetteville, N.C.
He defined “liberal” in the classical sense, stemming from the word “liberty.” Dr. Nikkel said a liberal arts or general education is liberating and one that encourages life-long inquiry.
However, he warned that there are mounting challenges to this freedom from “persons, institutions and movements that will discourage you from taking advantage of that education and will discourage you from continuing to grow as a broadly educated citizens of the United States and the world.”
Dr. David Nikkel These “narrowing” forces have resulted in political dysfunction, opposition to scientific literacy and religious movements that advocate violence.
They are also calling into question the values of a liberal arts education, Dr. Nikkel said.
“These voices label the education of students in history, art, literature, philosophy, religion, the social sciences and the natural sciences generally as wasteful,” he continued. “With digital and other technology changing the specifics of most jobs at ever-increasing speeds, most employers want workers who can think critically and flexibly and express themselves well orally and in writing.”
Dr. Nikkel implored the graduates, “as broadly educated citizens, to use your influence to ensure that future students will have the educational opportunity you’ve received and taken advantage of.”
Undergraduate exercises were held in the Main Gym of the English E. Jones Health and Physical Education Building. Degrees were granted to 492 students from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Schools of Education and Business.
In the moments before the processional, some of UNCP’s graduates reflected on their educational journeys and what it means for the next generation.
“College is not an option any more in my house,” said Tasha Oldham who has two children. “My children will have financial and family support, and watching me shows them it can be done.”
Oldham, whose family is from Puerto Rico, finished school in less than three years and has a job teaching kindergarten in Hoke County.
Patricia Taylor of Lumberton earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and will continue her education next semester at Asbury Theological Seminary. The first in her family to get a college degree, she has a 10-year old son.
“I am encouraging him by being a role model,” Taylor said. “I never tell him what to do, but to follow me.”
From a family of 18, Tammy Locklear dropped out of high school and worked in a factory, as a hairdresser, and as a teacher assistant before earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. She had a quick answer regarding her children’s college education.
“My children will have an easier path than I did, because they will learn from what I did,” Locklear said. “My daughter’s already in college with a full scholarship.”
Like Locklear, Rosa Oxendine learned the hard way that she could succeed in college. A first generation college graduate from Laurinburg, she spent one unsuccessful semester at UNCP in the mid-1990s.
Things will be different for her two children, Oxendine promised. “They are blessed to have two parents who are focused on education,” she said. “I came here for them, so they could see me succeed and see that they can do it too.”
Rhonda Cooper of Lumberton offered another success story. For eight years, she waited tables at a local seafood restaurant while taking classes to become a teacher.
“My little boy was my inspiration,” she said. “I am setting an example, and I hope to give him the same opportunity I had. When he goes to college, he will have the benefit of my experience, and a teacher for a mother.”
If there is a typical college experience, Lonnie Cox of Lumberton had it. He worked two jobs, including one at UNCP’s Writing Center. He graduated in three-and-a-half years and started a teaching job in November.
“Yes, I am the first in my family to go to college,” Cox said. “I’ve proved you can do anything, if you work hard and are dedicated.”
Perhaps the least typical of UNCP’s graduates on Saturday was Amanda Lippard, who who travelled from Stokes County to pick up her diploma.
“This is the first time I have ever been on campus,” Lippard said. “I took all my classes on online and had great support from professors. I hope to meet them in person today.”
On Friday, the School of Graduate Studies formally “hooded” 108 students on the stage in the Givens Performing Arts Center. Graduate students are employed, successful, smart and motived, but they needed advice and encouragement along the way.
Kindra Locklear, who works in the Office of the Chancellor at UNCP, said graduate students need support because most work and have families. She is expecting her second child in March.
“Graduate students are sometimes overlooked,” Locklear said. “My husband and my parents were my biggest supporters.”
Mary Beth Brayboy Locklear, who earned a Master of Public Administration degree, found inspiration from her professors and from alumni of the program.
“I saw how successful our MPA graduates have been and that encouraged me to earn this degree,” Locklear said.
Catherine Entrocaso, a high school English teacher, drove from Wilmington to attend evening classes. After crossing the stage, she wiped away a tear.
“I am married with a daughter, so it was a tough three years,” Entrocaso said. “It was worth it. I had a phenomenal experience with the professors here who encouraged me.”